Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part 2)

If you didn’t start at Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part One), I would suggest starting there. Although it isn’t all that important.

The Rearview Mirror

I used to think I could shape the circumstances around me, but now I know Jesus uses circumstances to shape me.

This chapter starts with an examination of a poor choice for future career paired with the rejection of a girl Bob was in a long distance relationship with and his journey to confront her. As he said, it hurts to come in second (although a large part of her choice might have been influenced by his choice of forestry as a future). Bob writes, “I’ve learned that God sometimes allows us to find ourselves in a place where we want something so bad that we can’t see past it. Sometimes we can’t even see God because of it. When we want something that bad, it’s easy to mistake what we truly need for the thing we really want.” (35-36) We are, basically, talking about idolatry. Anything that supplants the Truth for the image of it. For me, this was my past relationships. I didn’t have God, but that didn’t get rid of my desire to be loved, to understand my worth, and to serve someone. If someone had to be at the center then it only made sense that it would be the man I was with. Now I look back and think what a heavy burden that could be, and how much better it is that I find these things first with God. This idolatry taught me a few things. First, that a substitute is never as good as the real thing. Second, how to love well despite circumstances. Lastly, gratitude for good and kind men. Does a good fruit not taste sweeter once you have taken a bite of one that is bitter and sour? Then I can only imagine that the depth of my appreciation and gratitude for a good man has grown because of my experience with other kinds of men.

Go Buy Your Books!

I used to think God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know sometimes God wants us to kick doors down.

Through a series of baffling and misinformed errors, Bob found himself rejected from basically every law school. Nobody was interested. He went to the school he wanted in a week before classes started and made his way to the Dean. He then explained that he applied and he wants to become a lawyer so that he can make a real difference. The problem, Bob explained, was that they hadn’t accepted him and without that acceptance, he couldn’t become a lawyer and therefore wouldn’t be able make a difference. The Dean told him he was sorry and Bob said, “You have the power to let me in. All you have to tell me is, ‘Go buy your books,’ and I could be a student in law school. It’s that simple. You just need to say those words.” (42) The guy smiled and dismissed him. So each day, Bob kept showing up. He learned the Dean’s schedule and was always sitting there, waiting. Reminding him that all he needed to say were those words. Sometimes the Dean would acknowledge him, sometimes he’d ignore him, yet there Bob sat. Until the day the Dean said, “Go get your books.” The amazing thing about this story isn’t, to me, Bob’s sheer perseverance. Or the Dean’s grace and mercy. It is how Bob, afterwards, took a particular joy in doing the same for other students who now sit where he once sat. Sometimes we need to kick doors down, and sometimes we need to remember to hold the door open for others.

Sweet Maria

I used to think Jesus motivated us with ultimatums, but now I know He pursues us in love.

Thus, we arrive at Bob’s love story. He saw Maria and recognized his wife. She saw him and… forgot about him. Love is funny like that. Sometimes it takes people some time to see what is right in front of them. He saw his Maria right before Valentine’s Day. In a misguided attempt to woe her, he made a card he could barely fit into the elevator and delivered it to her. At work. She was mortified and gave him a polite distance for the next six months. That’s when he had the brilliant idea of leaving sandwiches under the windshield wipers of her car. Which is also weird. “Fortunately, Maria understood that for some of us-most of us-the language of love is laced with whimsy. It sometimes borders on the irrational. Like I’ve been saying though, love is a do thing. It’s an energy that has to be dissipated.” (49) Ultimately, three years down the road, we arrive at the proposal. By this point, she had learned his weird was harmless and most likely has just as crazy for him as he was for her. He set up a dinner across the street on a roof top. “When Maria and I finished diner, I got down on one knee and asked, ‘Maria, will you…’ Then the emotion of the moment was just too much for me and I couldn’t talk anymore. As has been one of Sweet Maria’s many outstanding characteristics since-she helped me to finish what I had started, and said, ‘Yes.'” (51) What can I say to this? Such is the weirdness of love, that it makes us do odd and awkward things. Things that get each others attention and leads us, eventually, to the place where the attributes we treasure most are those odd behaviors we recall with affection. Maybe that’s just me? I far prefer the things which make a person unique from others rather than the attributes they share with the breadth and depth of humanity.

Continue reading at Reflections on “Love Does,” by Bob Goff (Part Three).

Advertisements

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Three)

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Chapter 4 looks at ‘becoming,’ and that doesn’t mean that this transforms into one of the many self-help books that Americans seem to love to read, talk about and then move on to the next book. It’s about becoming the you that you are meant to be, because that is a necessary element to a successful relationship. Why? “Truth is, your relationships will never be any healthier than you. Here’s why. And this is important. Relationships are never stronger than the weakest link…The stronger, more mature, more secure person in a relationship is always forced to make up for, defer to, or fill in the gaps created by the weaker person.” (57) I know, I know, this sounds uber harsh. But it’s also accurate. Think about the relationship problems you hear couples talk about. Is the issue really their relationship?

Let’s back this up a little. I think we all recognize that our lives are often richer, fuller, more joyful lives because of the relationships we have. And it doesn’t stop at the emotional, social and spiritual support that these relationships provide. It gets physical. God also gave us sex. Sex that feels really great. “If God created and gave us the capacity for satisfying relationships, it’s reasonable to assume God knows a thing or two about how to prepare for and operate one.” (59) This makes sense, right? Who knows how to operate something better than the designer, the creator, the originator of that thing? God actually teaches us this in the New Testament, and it lines up with what Andy Stanley writes about with regards to focusing on ‘you becoming’ versus ‘you finding.’ “…if you approach the New Testament asking, ‘How do I find the right person?’ the text is silent. But once you muster the courage to ask, ‘How do I become the right person?’ the text comes alive.” (61)

Ask yourself what happens to the ‘right person myth,’ after marriage. Does it dissipate? Or does it linger? Do people with that attitude, upon facing challenges and difficulties, end up questioning if they are with the ‘right person’ because things aren’t all good? It’s stunning how often we see people insistent on changing the person they are with. “‘If I could get my spouse to act right, everything would be all right.‘ Odd thing, these are the very couples who married assuming that they had met the right person to begin with. Turns out, the right person doesn’t always act right.” (62) This is another reason to focus on ‘becoming.’ If you are a person who just searches for the right person, your focus will always be on making them right, and not on yourself. Conversely, if you marry someone who believes in the right person myth, then any issues that arise would rest on the idea that you are not, in fact, the right person.

Depending on the circles you run in, there’s a lot of talk about love as a verb.  This means that rather than love being driven by feeling or chemistry, love is demonstrative action. This is found all over the New Testament, but not so often in our romantic comedies, which tell us that action is driven by the feeling of love. As an example from the New Testament, consider Matthew 5:44, where we are asked to love our enemies. Certainly if they are an enemy, you’re unlikely to find emotion to be a driver to act loving. Rather, we are being asked to demonstrate love for those who come against us! What this tells us is that relationships are built on choice rather than chemistry. “Great relationships are built on good decisions, not strong emotions. Again, falling in love is easy; it requires a pulse. Staying in love requires more. Specifically, embracing love as a verb.” (63) Remember, again, that this is not what society tells us. It says that you get what you give, it demands people to ‘get what they deserve,’ as long as you do your part I’ll probably do mine (unless something better comes along).

Where does this land us? Many of us (ahem) have experienced it firsthand: “The results are fragile relational contracts built on conditional agreements that leave both parties focused on the behavior of their partner…they are relationships built on ‘mutual distrust.'” (64) The end result of this is that each person expects the other person to carry the weight of the relationship and the expectations in it; failure to do so is a failure to meet the contractual requirements and confirmation that the other person is not, indeed, the right person. Disappointment, blame, and moving onto someone else become a continuous cycle for all parties. But then there’s this alternate path available to us:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 “The Greek term translated new in our English Bibles connotes strange or remarkable.” (65) Something about what we’re being called to in love is remarkable from what love was before! We’re supposed to love like Christ did: sacrificially. What does this look like? Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Yeah, I know. Submitting. This can be a hot topic but I want you to hang with me here, okay? Let’s really understand what’s being said.

Paul is writing about what Andy Stanley calls mutual submission. “…Paul wasn’t calling for an unequivocal unilateral abandonment of personal independence. This is a one another thing…mutual submission doesn’t work unless it’s mutual. It only works when both parties work it.” (67) This is not the way the vast majority of people operate, and that’s why Paul points us back to our reverence for Christ. Why? Because we are meant to be inspired by Jesus’ example and use it as a model for our own relationships. Ephesians 5:22-5:25 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The emphasis is added to highlight the mutual submission that is inherent in this verse. This is the kind of relationship we are called to, but it might all just sound a little too good, right?

“The alternative is to invite fear into future relationships… While your reservation is perfectly understandable, it’s entirely unnecessary and counterproductive. You were created for more than guarded relationships and ‘I will as long as you will’ love. Truth is, you hope that’s true, even if you’ve never seen it or experienced it.” (68) I John 4;18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Don’t we want that? Aren’t we called to that?

At one point Andy Stanley was fundamentally asked if he believed that having a two-headed home (instead of the man being the head of the household) was like a two-headed monster; if he believed the man should basically be the head of the household. He replied:

“Before I answer your question, imagine you’re married to a man who genuinely believes you are the most fascinating person on the planet. He’s crazy about you. You have no doubt that your happiness is his top priority. He listens when you talk. He honors you in public. To use the old-fashioned term, he ‘cherishes’ you. He’s not afraid to make a decision. He values your opinions. He leads, but he listens. He’s responsible. He’s not argumentative. You have no doubt that he would give his life for you if the need arose. You never worry about him being unfaithful. In fact, to quote an old Flamingos’ song, he only has eyes for you… Would either of you have trouble following a man like that?” (70)

And if you read that, you’re answer was probably no, I wouldn’t. In fact, you probably said, “Where do I find that guy?” Why? Because that sounds like a really amazing guy, a man that is easy to follow because you are confident that they have your best interests at heart. You don’t have to fear it or fight it. “Stand-alone submission is dangerous. But mutual submission? That’s different. A relationship characterized by mutual submission is the best of all possible relationships. It is a relationship worth preparing for. It is a relationship worth waiting for.” (71)

I also thought, as I read Andy’s description, am I a person that ALWAYS listens when other people talk? Do I honor those I love in public and cherish them? Am I responsible and not argumentative? Faithful? I think that the answer to most of these are yes, but there are certainly ways I could grow in order to make these characteristics stronger and more frequently demonstrated. I believe that taking those steps will help me prepare for whatever it is I’m waiting for.

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

Book Review – Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference

“We focus on disability and our Christian tradition because we have learned that disability is an enduring, fundamental aspect of humanity that has been manipulated and wronged by society… We searched our faith tradition for signs of disability and, indeed, we found the divine Trinity.” (Tataryn, 7) This statement is the crux of this book, helping readers move from a space where disability is at best, just a burden the person is meant to bear or at worst, a result of sinfulness or God’s wrath to a space where they recognize the Trinity in the embodiment of each person and our call as a community to be inclusive.

They start by examining what disables those in our community: our marginalization of people different from socially acceptable “norms” and the point of view that they are, “objects of pity and recipients of charity.” (Tataryn, 15).  What disables people is less often their different embodiments but rather the exclusion of them from the rest of society; of being viewed as not entirely whole, of having something missing, of being lesser. “By perceiving and treating disabled people as Other, we accept societal taxonomies of gradated human value, thereby rejecting the fullness of humankind and limiting our spiritual growth, both personal and collective.” (Tataryn, 15) It is necessary that we work to shift from the medical model of disability that views various embodiments as a tragedy that we strive to fix to the social model which instead says that disability is rooted not in the person but in the society that disables them.

Next they begin explaining what this inclusive community looks like. While the social model uncovers the root of disability, the Trinitarian Paradigm, as a supplement, “emphasizes the vital, universal need for human relationship.” (Tataryn, 22) They walk us through this by examining the conflicting perspectives throughout Christian history which skew us toward a viewpoint that frames an individual’s value in predominantly economic terms. Starting with the Hebrew Scripture, we start to understand the difference between seeing a person’s body as possessing divinity or demonic traits based on their embodiment.  When we examine Genesis, we see it points to a God who is a Creator and fond of diversity; to the fact that community is not built on similarity but on difference. “By ordering, that which has been created ‘man’ has created hierarchy, which produces in ‘man’ a further need: a relationship of equality, a ‘partner.’ …Human community is based in the difference between ‘man’ and woman.’” (Tataryn, 29) It is sin that divides us, not our differences. It is sin that creates the antagonistic, hierarchal attitudes of one group towards another. Ultimately, we reach Leviticus, whose purpose was to address sin. “Leviticus’s purpose is order, ritual, and the authority of the priestly caste, not complicated by human diversity.” (Tataryn, 32) They also walk us through some of the reasons why it is supposed that disability and ritual impurity are linked to one another, ultimately leading to the conclusion that if read through the social model we can see that the liminality is most often an outcome of life processes more than sin or God’s wrath. “But the prophets distinguish between those who are vulnerable or weak and those who are faithless and suffer as a result.” (Tataryn, 38)

Next examined is how Jesus disables the idea of institutionalized disability within society. “Jesus’ action is one of nullifying the established norms that have disrupted community. By approaching and engaging with individuals who have been rejected by the cultural and ritual codes of community, Jesus subverts the taboos of exclusion and practices radical inclusion.” (Tataryn, 43) It walks through various examples of this, noting how Jesus highlights human dignity, personhood and faith as well as the repentance from sin. It even notes the writings of Paul and Luke that strive to counteract the trend of physiognomy in their time (the belief that one’s physical traits reflected the character of a person). There’s considerable coverage of Paul and his encouragement of others to rejoice in their weakness because that is where God shows up. “In context with the day-to-day living of Jesus of Nazareth, the Resurrection instead signals a celebration of divine love known through the fullness of being human, without margins.” (Tataryn, 50)

Next we examine the role of community, or koinonia, in being a space where love and relationship for all people is lived out side-by-side. Examples from the prophets as well as Abraham and Sarah emphasize the importance of an inclusive community. “The Suffering Servant embodies the stigma linked to disability: causing disgust, shame, and sorrow. Yet the Suffering Servant embodies most completely the relationship between God and humanity, challenging us to look beyond our prejudices in building a new, fuller community than previously imagined.” (Tataryn, 53) In order to better understand what this call looks like and how we got to where we are, the authors dive into a wide variety of theologians from both Eastern and Western orthodoxy. This helps us to see how we get to our understanding of the Trinity today: one of relationship to one another. Operating out of this knowledge is a challenge that the church continues to struggle with. “Unconsciously, our church communities tend to conform more to the tyrannical societal norm than to the dictates of Christ. But with conscious awareness, we can become communities of love that drew people so compellingly to follow Christ in the nascent Christian Church.” (Tataryn, 71)

Next examined are the various models of Christian community: understanding that caring means having relationship with others, that caritas is a necessary outcome of faith and not the exercise of charity as we see today: we potentially give charitably to have others love our neighbor for us. It also looks at the relationship with God in the context of solitude (like the monastic tradition) or service (where oftentimes acting out of pity is confused for loving our neighbors). Amongst several other models, they also examine what is termed a Holy Fool, where “…the Christian (not necessarily a monastic) acts contrary to social norms, shunning public approval, creatively embodying Christ’s radical transformation of the natural world.” (Tataryn, 78)

Following this they engage in an examination of the sacraments: “…we exist in relation to God, to each other, and to the cosmos. Thus, our faith is rooted in our materiality, and this sacred substantiality, as it were, is manifested sacramentality.” (Tataryn, 84) By understanding that all creation is laced with divinity, because the Divine touched all of creation, we can recognize that God is present through creation. Early in the church moments of time that were viewed as particularly imbued with divine presence were called mysteries. As more and more structure was built around these things, societal prerequisites became linked to being able to engage in the sacraments. This attitude has been examined by the church in recent decades.

The last few sections examine miracles, true hospitality and being icons.  The section on miracles looks in depth at the story of a family with children of different embodiments that faces a disabling and exclusive society which they are excluded from participating fully in. “Miracles are associated with faith, sin, cure, prayer, and the power of God over nature to perform the impossible… In our time, we have created disability as a deviance rather than understanding it as an ordinary human occurrence… a miracle presents a quick fix.” (Tataryn, 97) Ultimately, the point is made that rather than viewing the healing miracles as a path to a quick fix perhaps we should understand it as Jesus’ engagement in the Trinity as well as his living out caritas on the Sabbath with people rejected by society. Hospitality examines the church (and all the people that make it up) and asks why we are allowing our hospitality to be defined by society. If you truly care about somebody, that means we also care for them, and if there should be any place that defines inclusiveness and hospitality it ought to be found in Christ’s community.  Lastly we have icons, which some see as a form of idolatry. When more closely examined, “Iconographic style implicitly conveys a transfigured reality and elicits… a recognition of their participation in its meaning… The Eastern Christian does not bow before an icon to worship the wood, but rather venerates the reality recognized through the material substance.” (Tataryn, 109) This allows an extension of one’s self to the Other, in truth, to create a connection not just between those we live with in community today but to tie all humanity through all time together.

In summary, the authors effectively walk us through disability via the lens of the Trinitarian Paradigm as well as the social model, helping readers to gain a more thorough understanding of the Christian faith and what it means to those whose embodiment is different from the accepted norm. It reveals the ways in which our views of humanity are distorted and how it wrongs all of society; that being present and living out caritas with all humanity in an inclusive community is where we find a greater presence of the Trinity and what we are called into as followers of Christ.

Works Cited

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

Reflections on “Final Gifts”: Permission to Die, Birth and Death, and the Value of Reconciliation

I found Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley to be a powerful insight into the lives of three different groups of people: nurses for the dying, the family and friends of the dying and the dying themselves. It looks at “Nearing Death Awareness,” or the increasing awareness one has when one is dying over a long period of time, the actual experience of it and what they need in order to die peacefully. Three concepts I felt really stood out to me and that I feel I can apply immediately in the future were the idea that the dying often need permission to die, the relationship between birth and death and the value of reconciliation and the role we can play in it.

It was helpful for me to acknowledge the truth that dying people often need permission to die; receiving it can provide a great amount of relief and the withholding of it can make the process of death longer and more challenging. This is likely due to what they are trying to communicate and why: “The dying often use the metaphor of travel to alert those around them that it is time for them to die. They also have a deep concern about the welfare of those they love, asking themselves, ‘Do they understand? Are they going to be alright?’[1] In the example of Ellen, her family struggled at first to understand that she was trying to communicate that she was dying to them. This increased the level of stress and anxiety for both Ellen and her family.  Once they realized that she was likely referring to heaven, they went in and comforted and affirmed her. “Ellen’s family provided what she needed by letting her know they understood the messages she was so desperately trying to give them-‘I am dying, it is time for my journey from this life, I need to know you understand and are ready; I need your permission to go.’”[2] While I have never witnessed this, I have heard stories from people about someone they love “constantly agitated towards the end.” I’ve also encountered people in homes who didn’t seem to make any sense and they were generally dismissed. This idea encourages me to approach people not only with a heart of compassion but with a belief that there is, perhaps, an understanding that can be reached.

Another idea I found helpful was the analogy between birth and death. As one nurse described, “I also feel strongly that, like birthing, dying can be an opportunity for the whole family to share positive experiences, rather than only sadness, pain and loss. That is the challenge of the work…”[3] In fact, both birth and death used to happen in the home until industrialization and the twentieth century hit; then birth became a procedure and death a failure at successful treatment.  Recently there has been some headway made in both these areas, and both birth and death are now often possible in the comfort of one’s home rather than in the often isolating and unfamiliar hospital. Consider the difference that this has made for births: “Family members present at delivery share a special bond with mother and child-a closeness born of sharing that powerful moment. The deeper their involvement and understanding, the likelier they are to come away with a sense of learning and growth.”[4] This same thing could be said for those who experience death alongside loved ones. Their deeper involvement leaves them with a sense that there were fully participatory in the end and the person dying is less lonely and fearful because they are surrounded by those who care for them. When I consider the growth and community that comes from birth I have to believe that the same is true for death and I see the value of community in times where people are facing a terminal illness.

I also learned that many times the most important thing for a person as they are nearing death is reconciliation.  “As death nears, people often realize some things feel unfinished or incomplete-perhaps issues that once seemed insignificant or that happened long ago. Now the dying person realizes their importance and wants to settle them.”[5] If this is request is understood people will often do what they can to assist the person but there are also times when the request is unclear, leaving the person upset or appearing in pain when they aren’t physically pained; rather they are suffering psychologically or emotionally. They desire peace, and to die peacefully they need either healing or reconciliation to occur in the relationship (often in the form of an apology or expression of gratitude). “Most dying people begin by listing their accomplishments, but they also will consider their disappointments-tasks not completed, opportunities missed, relationships broken or left to wither. As caregivers or friends, if we can help dying people conduct such reviews and heal damaged relationships, we can help them find peace.”[6] I saw this with my Father’s mother as she was nearing her own end. It was clear she wanted reconciliation with my mother and I tried to provide the best reassurances I could. That seemed to be a great comfort to her in those moments, as she was very fearful of death.

[1]Callanan, Maggie & Kelley, Patricia. (2012) Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. United States of America: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. Pg. 74

[2] Callanan & Kelley. Pg. 75

[3] Callanan & Kelley. Pg. 130

[4] Callanan & Kelley, Pg. 30

[5] Callanan & Kelley, Pg. 137

[6] Callanan & Kelley, Pg. 153

Grace and Mercy

     In the 6th chapter about grace and mercy, I was mostly drawn more to the section about the interaction of prayer with God. It starts by revisiting the idea of the collective unconsciousness by starting with the psychedelics in the 1960s and moving forward to the field of quantum mechanics which soon helped come up with a “scientific” name for divine consciousness: the nonlocal mind. Nonlocal, “refers to a field that cannot be represented or measured in the typical space-time continuum… the human mind is an extension of the nonlocal mind-which is not simply localized in the body.” (pg. 203) What does this have to do with grace and prayer?

     According to Seaward, when we pray, we send our thoughts out as a type of energy, because all things are energy. Beyond that, that prayer also enters the nonlocal mind. So prayers don’t necessarily go from sender to godhead to receiver but instead go everywhere; as the author demonstrates through several studies where distance is made irrelevant. To this end, prayer is an effective coping technique for stress, but open-ended prayer vs. goal or reciting words (think rosary or the same prayer before a meal) appears to be the most effective; I wonder if this is because it is less about the self (ego) and more about the divine. As it explains later in the reading,“Surrender does not mean to give in or give up. ‘Surrender to the will of God’ is an invitation to work with, rather than in opposition to, the divine game plan. Think of surrender as flowing with the current.” (pg. 212) So rather than praying to God FOR something, or repeating a prayer on autopilot, in an open-ended prayer it is more thoughtful, immersive and gratitude filled. This could go back to the four processes; the repetitive prayers may be good for the “emptying” process of clearing your mind, but not for the “connecting” process of relating to the divine. 

     Do we not see this told to us by Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees you in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Do we think that God needs us to repeat empty words again and again? That God does not know what we need before we ask? Jesus tells us to pray “to the Father” not in front of many, because if you are putting on a show, that will be your only reward, but in private, where it is clear your prayers are for God. And Jesus says “do not heap empty phrases” thinking we’ll be “heard for their many words” but gives us clear instruction on how to pray. Then we are given the “Lord’s Prayer.”

     But even here Jesus says Matthew 6:9-10 “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus says to pray LIKE this, not to recite this prayer repeated. Jesus is giving us instructions (because the disciples asked) on how to pray. So he’s saying, acknowledge God as your Father, praise his holiness. Pray that God’s Kingdom and Will be on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 11-12 “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Then Jesus says ask God to provide for your needs daily, to acknowledge that it is God and not you who sustains you. Pray that God forgives your sins as you have forgiven those who have sinned against you (loving all people and showing compassion). Matthew 6:13 “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray that God help you to avoid the things that tempt you away from relationship with your heavenly Father, and protect you from evil.

     Jesus then goes on to remind them that if you forgive others, God will forgive you but if you don’t, neither will God forgive you. What is that about? Why would Jesus tell us that God forgiving us is contingent upon us forgiving others? I think this traces back to my reading in Cannato, where we must redeem all creation. Love everyone. Our salvation is found in loving each other and in God. Jesus, in forgiving and loving us and sacrificing himself for the world is the ultimate example of this. Perhaps that is why reciting prayers in front of many doesn’t impress God, or repeating the same prayer over and over doesn’t resonate in God’s heart the way Jesus’ instruction on prayer does. If we pray the way Jesus’ calls us to, we can’t help but enter into a deeper relationship with God and all those around us whom we have wronged or who have wronged us.

Centering, Emptying, Grounding, Connecting

The fourth chapter of Brian Seaward’s Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water looked at the seasons of the soul and I found many of his reflections profoundly helpful. Centering, emptying, grounding and connecting are the four processes reviewed and are all deeply rewarding and necessary but also have challenges that accompany each of them.

Centering, or entering the heart and quieting the mind, is the first step and for some the hardest. It is creating a quiet space for the divine to speak into. “In the words of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” (pg. 125) It is important to do this activity daily, even if only for a short time, to try to have a designated space, and to have it be quiet.

The second is emptying, where we let go and release those things we no longer need.  It can be thoughts, ideas, memories, etc. but they are weights that hold us down. Emptying out creates space for new ideas, insights, and growth. The author claims this is the hardest and often is accompanied by grief and avoidance. “Stressors are not so much a spiritual breakdown as opportunities for a spiritual breakthrough. Our moments of despair are the soul’s attempt to take that first step into the void.” (pg. 139) This is not a place to get stuck, as many do, but to rest in the momentary but profound freedom this brief emptiness offers. “When we understand and appreciate the balance, we can see how necessary the emptying process is to becoming whole.” (pg. 143)

Third is the grounding process, the space in which we are reminded of our basic connection to God; when we seek for insights from something beyond ourselves. Dreams and vision quests are paths used but there is always communication happening outside of these two things; it is often a matter of receptivity which is more a process then an outcome. “Just as you cannot push water uphill, you cannot demand enlightenment. Discipline and patience are essential in the grounding process.” (pg. 153) Another space you will find this is in moments of synchronicity, where we see that all things are linked and that the divine can speak to us through those ties. In other words, two events that might separately have no great meaning together speak a greater truth to us. This is, in part, what Sophy Burnham refers to when she, “…eloquently suggests in her acclaimed bestseller A Book of Angels, the voice of God has many mouths. Insights, inspirations, and revelations can come from relatives, friends and even strangers.” (pg. 157) To hear from God provides stability through the divine instead of our own foundations.

The final process is connecting, relationship. From the Apostle Paul to African Proverbs to Chief Seattle, our interconnectedness to each other and the world is impossible to deny. “From a Taoist perspective, when we see ourselves as separate from the whole, we not only distance ourselves from nature, we isolate ourselves from other people as well. In turn, this distance weakens our spiritual health and suffocates our very essence.” (pg. 161) As science began to recognize that we were all energy, Jung with Einstein formulated the idea of a collective unconscious, a universal mind. Later, in his autobiography, Jung noted that which he had labeled the unconscious could just as well be God. Shifting from grounding to connecting is found in both receiving and giving. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, “…wrote in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning: “We had to learn from ourselves and we had to teach disparaging men that it did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (pg. 164) This communal, interconnected life we all share asks something of us, and we give to it, enter into community and this final phase, through and out of love and compassion.

“The Holy Longing”: Part II (A Few Insights I Loved)

One of the things that I found particularly insightful was “The Essentials of Christian Spirituality-The Four Nonnegotiable Pillars of the Spiritual Life.” Great fulfillment comes from filling all of these functions and it’s because we were designed to do them. “…Jesus prescribed four things as an essential praxis for a healthy spiritual life: a) Private Prayer and private morality; b) social justice; c) mellowness of heart and spirit; and d) community as a constitutive element of true worship.” (Rolheiser, 53) Without the growth and development of all of these elements within my life I would not have the foundation or the relationship with God that I do now. I realize that these four branches were all working together powerfully to both deepen my faith and bear fruit.

The second insightful section I liked was about The Word being made flesh. “God takes on the flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink becomes a sacrament.” (Rolheiser, 78) I recently began reading the Old Testament and within it you see God sometimes speak in plural. Since the Word became flesh which was Jesus and it says that the Word was with God in the beginning, did Jesus from the start know of His sacrifice? Within the Old Testament I also see the foreshadowing of Christ and his death, even as Abraham tells his son that God will provide the lamb. This section definitely gave me a lot to consider.

The third insight I felt really resonated with me was the reconciliation and forgiveness of sins. “We have our sins forgiven by being in community with each other, at table with each other… we will never go to hell as long as we are touching the community-touching it with sincerity and modicum of contrition.” (Rolheiser, 87-88) I feel like there is greater effectiveness in communal repentance than perhaps going to an individual at a church, although he does speak to the value of that later. My community knows me. They know how to love me, encourage me, challenge me and chastise me. I must make myself be vulnerable and confess, but wanting to change my ways for my community is a big motivation. Their ability to see what is and isn’t effective in modifying my behavior also helps. I see a lot of value in this.

When I consider his book and how we can apply it to leadership, one excerpt I particularly like is from a man who thought his issues weren’t that bad. “As best as I can put it, now that I go regularly to Alcoholics and Sexual Anonymous meetings, is that I see in colors again. Before that, I wasn’t a bad person, but I was always so taken up with my own needs and yearnings that… I wasn’t really seeing what was in front of me.” (Rolheiser, 230) There is value to what God asks us. Of course in this example it is some of the more obvious cases like avoiding drunkenness and sexual immorality. But the guidelines Jesus gives us to follow are fruitful not just for others; they bear fruit for us as well. Additionally, I learn that we might be better leaders if we were more like the Father in Rembrandt’s Father of the Prodigal Son. In that painting, Rembrandt portrayed the Father as blind. “The implication is obvious, God sees with the heart.” (Rolheiser, 240). When I consider the best leaders I know, this is what I see: people with a compassionate heart who teach others instead of mock, who forgive quickly, love fully and give generously. The greatest leaders are the ones who are vulnerable, make themselves accessible and are humble even as they come in to save us. Those are Christ-like qualities and those are also things this book describes excellently.